Greetings to all Commedia Actors and to audiences around the world and across time and space. To the Commedia Actors from all countries around the globe who, through what seems an infinite lineage going back to the 1530s, found a mission and purpose in life – something of service to offer up to audiences while on a life long journey of greater discovery of the self and at the same time stepping into newer and newer shoes of mastery. A mastery in Commedia performance that has brought sheer inspiration to audiences and left an indelible mark in the minds of people that has contributed to the knowledge of themselves and offered up a deeper understanding of their fellow man. To the Commedia Actor, a teacher of, and to, humanity across the centuries and into the future.
The art of the Commedia actor in front of an audience takes place in theatres around the world. Some theatre companies are especially dedicated to the art, which in turn provide a range of possibilities to take the art and mastery to higher and higher levels without end. This is the journey of the Commedia actor. There is no end to their mastery; there is the total commitment, dedication and commitment to the art which is infinite and lifelong. The theatre is a sacred place, a place of sharing, between the actor and the audiences, moments of brilliance – deeply impacting moments of truth and of lasting revelations. It is a space of ever-expanding opportunity to communicate and inspire.
To audiences who have attended Commedia performances and found something profound in that experience that continues to enrich their lives. Richard Eyre, the English theatre director is quoted as saying that “audiences come to the theatre as individuals and leave as an audience”. Audiences unite through experiencing stories, witnessing masterful performances, themes, that have them connect with each other. The art of Commedia within storytelling, within the sharing of archetypal characters, is that it informs us and reflects back to us aspects of ourselves.
The profession and its opportunities for a dedicated lifelong experience were born in a period of perceived limitation and darkness. Limitation in that the only theatre being performed was in churches or in the palaces of royalty, both controlling of the masses. In Rome alone there were 50 noble families of 300 years standing.
I believe that tragedy/comedy travel through life as a pair. It was through the tragedies, cruelty, famine, restrictions, illnesses and early death of the era of the 1500’s, that a few brave bands of Commedia performers invented characters that represented some of the major characters of that time and took those improvisations and plays to the palaces and homes of the rulers, to break the tensions of the day, to bring laughter through the portrayal of the idiocies of the time, to release tensions and entertain and of course to be paid. The times gave space and way for the beginning of a rich profession, and I believe it to be the time of the first professionally paid female actress.
This profession gave birth to not only the Commedia actor but to writers, directors, costumiers, and visionaries. The troupes then began to travel throughout Europe, inspiring others. It is said that Moliere at the age of 8, on witnessing a Commedia performance, knew that he wanted to commit his life to playwriting. Commedia dell’Arte also made a huge impact in the UK, through Shakespeare, Ben Johnson and individual comic performers, inspired by the art. It was the beginning of an expansion of a sphere of influence, and now throughout the ages, that sphere travels through space and time, continually offering the Commedia Actor the opportunity to not settle in the moment but to stretch onward and outward to new levels of mastery and communication of the art.
What of uniqueness in relation to the Commedia actor? Antonio Fava, maestro and Commedia artist, is quoted as saying “people shouldn’t make copies of plagiarism of clones with the excuse of the ‘common discipline’”. As in all disciplines, people have to assert their own artistic personality and originality. And so the Commedia actor of his time is given the opportunity to find his own voice. An example would be the young boy who at 9 years of age is bullied at school and, through being bullied, attracts his supporter the drama teacher at his school who specialises in Commedia dell’Arte. This begins his lifelong love and commitment to find his own voice, to dedicate himself to the life of studentship to the arte, performing in schools in a dedicated and experienced troupe.
Inspired to make a difference. Sanford Meisner is quoted as saying “if in life you find the thing you love to do it is like your lighthouse, your compass”.
What Commedia offers is the significant, the spectacular, the classic, the original. When the Commedia actor performs he is inspired by the character, the mask. Through the character and the mask he reaches heights, and through the actor reaching these heights, the character lives on – one impacting the other in the pursuit of professional and masterful performance.
I agree with Antonio Fava, when he says “every day throughout the year and every year is, for us, Commedia actors, Commedia day”. Daily opportunities to reflect back to audiences around the world, the commedia actor’s service, a service of unfolding mastery, to shine, to inform, to exhibit the skills, the purity of the dedication to the art.
To conclude, dear Commedia actor friends, audiences from around the world, and particularly those dedicated to the art, I would love to say not “goodbye” but “alla prossima”.